I Make My Junior High Band Debut at Age 39


This thing is harder than it looks, man.

Island Packet — I don’t want to make a big deal of this, but I performed at my first-ever junior high band concert last week. Stage and spotlight and my mom in the audience taking pictures and everything. It was a pretty big milestone, especially since it was a concert for fifth-graders and I’m actually 39 years old.

See, I never participated in band in junior high or high school for one very simple reason: I didn’t have to. (To be fair, I also possess the approximate musical talent of a sack full of jelly donuts, but it was mostly that first one.) I wasn’t just going to go “joining the band,” man, I had important demands on my time, such as getting really into pro wrestling for three years, learning to beat Super Mario Bros. 3 using only muscle memory and thinking very hard about maybe possibly one day asking a girl out. Band for me was not mandatory. Band at my son’s school is mandatory.

That’s pretty great, of course. Schools across the country are slicing away everything from band to PE to art to textbooks with evolution and climate change in them, so we’re incredibly lucky to have the 10-year-old enrolled in a place that not only prizes music education but also punches you in the face with it.

The kids picked their own instruments at the beginning of the year, and my son went with the baritone, which, for the uninitiated, is a large tuba instrument that’s both a key component of New Orleans second-line bands and very difficult to get on a bus. It goes without saying that for the first few weeks, his baritone resembled the sound a whale might create after eating a spoiled batch of guacamole, but, then again, I’m not sure what that sounds like, and I don’t think we can assemble that much guacamole. But his improvement was steady and measured, and reached its peak when I could successfully tell “London Bridge” from “All Those Other Songs That Were Not ‘London Bridge.’ ”

Which brings us to his first concert last week. You know how it is when you go to a band concert; you arrive and immediately do the following things:

  1. Glance at the program to find out how long you’re going to be here.
  2. Attempt to frame a photo of the space where your son will be playing, ignoring that he’ll be 40,000 feet away and you’ll be shooting photos primarily of the balding heads of strangers.
  3. See if the school has Wi-Fi.
  4. If the school does not have Wi-Fi, consider leaving the concert because there are a lot of songs on that flier, y’all.

It was his first concert, and he’d been working really hard and was all proud or whatever, and the school didn’t have Wi-Fi, but we stuck around.

The best part was at the end, when the teacher announced a switch: Each kid had to bring up a parent, friend or family member and teach him/her to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the child’s instrument, which, to be fair, is a pretty slick idea. (Is this standard? Do bands at other schools do this?)


Related, sort of


Except for one thing: I can’t handle a baritone. The baritone is one of those instruments you have to play while sputtering into a mouthpiece usually operated by your son, and I don’t want to be gross about it, but I’ve seen how my man brushes his teeth. Making a sound requires making this weird buzzing-locust noise with your face, and not to sound like a big brass-section crybaby here, but after a while, that effort hurts your face. (And by “after a while” I mean “about three minutes.” If you are reading this and play a brass instrument, and I realize that I’m limiting my demographics pretty severely right now, is this natural for beginners?)

Anyway, it goes without saying that the adults’ version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” sounded less like a band and more like a bus full of instruments plummeting off a cliff and crashing into a pile of megaphones, but we gave it our best shot. I think we did, anyway. I’m not sure the guy next to me was actually playing. I’m not sure I was actually playing. Wait, yes I am: I wasn’t actually playing. I mean, I was pushing the valves and sputtering into the mouthpiece, but I’m not sure that qualifies as “playing.” I bet the whales would have liked it, though.





About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official BruceSpringsteen.net, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

5 responses to “I Make My Junior High Band Debut at Age 39

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